Does CBD show up on a drug test?
Tens of millions of employees in all sorts of industries are encountering new questions when it comes to drug testing in the workplace
Workers who use a lot of CBD (cannabidiol) for pain, anxiety, insomnia, or a host of other symptoms, can accidentally (and unfairly) fail drug tests for cannabis in certain cases, media and experts report.
“We are aware of a few reports of CBD users who have flunked a drug test,” said Dale Gieringer, co-director of California NORML.
‘We are aware of a few reports of CBD users who have flunked a drug test.’
Dale Gieringer, co-director, California NORML
In the most common workplace drug screen—a urine test—employers aren’t looking for CBD, because CBD has never been found to impair judgment or motor skills. Instead, workers fail workplace drug testing for marijuana’s main active ingredient, THC, which can exist in low amounts in some CBD products and then persist in the human body for weeks.
A CBD product’s label might misstate the amount of THC, depending on the market in which you’re shopping. State-licensed adult-use and medical cannabis stores are regulated and mandate product testing, but outside of those systems, CBD product quality can vary in a largely unregulated market. Tests of CBD products from unlicensed stores have come back positive for THC.
“It’s caveat emptor,” said Barry Sample, Ph.D., senior director of science and technology for employer solutions at the nation’s biggest drug testing company, Quest Diagnostics. “The real issue is, how do you trust the labeling?”
Furthermore, if you consume enough CBD—on the order of 1,000 milligrams a day of CBD—just the residual THC could put your test results in the danger zone. This is a big deal because a failed drug test can result in the denial of loss of both job and income, and can also lead individuals to lose access to important resources like education and welfare benefits, child custody, and prescriptions for pain medication.
Can you fail a drug test for CBD? Not really, but sort of
You won’t fail a drug test for CBD, but you could potentially fail a drug test for any residual THC in that CBD product.
Sample said Quest Diagnostics does not test for CBD. THC, however, is on the lengthy list of drugs they test for.
Here’s how drug tests work. Employers collect and send off samples—largely urine—to drug testing companies who run them through a machine that can measure trace chemicals in the liquid. Technicians look for evidence of a byproduct of THC, the main active cannabinoid in cannabis. (More rarely, employers may test saliva, hair, or blood from their employees. We’ll get to that in a minute.)
One key guideline is drug-testing rules for federal employees. A federal worker will fail a drug test if their urine tests positive for any more than a trace amount of the THC metabolite (THC-COOH). And by “trace,” we mean just 50 billionths of a gram per milliliter of urine (50 ng/ml).
THC is the most common reason a worker fails a drug test. Some 2.3% of all US drug tests came back positive for cannabis use in 2018.
Watch out for old tech
There’s also the potential that an older, not uncommon type of analytical method falsely identifies THC in a sample that only contains CBD. That method is gas-chromatography mass-spectrometry with the derivatization agent trifluoroacetic anhydride (TFAA). Tens of thousands of false positives might stem from the error annually, reporter Amanda Chicago-Lewis estimates, but at least there is some recourse—CBD users have successfully challenged a failed drug test for THC if the lab used this specific method, which can result in a false report of CBD as THC.
Why is there THC in my CBD oil?
The cannabis plant produces both THC and CBD. Medical cannabis and industrial hemp are cousins—both create dozens of similar compounds called cannabinoids.
So CBD from “federally legal” hemp can still consist of up to 0.3% THC. If you ingest very high doses of CBD—in the thousands of milligrams per day—from federally legal hemp oil, that means you may also be ingesting at least 1 mg of THC as well.
“If you’re liberal with your hemp CBD oil use, you could hypothetically test positive for THC,” said Greg Gerdeman, Ph.D., chief science officer at Colorado’s United Cannabis, makers of Prana Hemp and Prana Medicinals.
Many times, labels are just plain wrong, too. Outside of state-licensed systems, no mandatory oversight exists, said Martin Lee, co-founder and director of Project CBD.
“Mislabeled CBD products proliferate outside the licensed cannabis marketplace,” Lee said. “Some CBD products labeled as ‘THC-free’ aren’t what the label says. If a CBD user tests positive for THC, either the test is inaccurate or, more likely, the no-THC product contained some THC.”
Avoid accidental THC exposure by using state-licensed and tested CBD products. Depending on the state, CBD products can be thoroughly tested and the labels are accurate. If the label says there’s no THC in there, it’s probably true.
How much CBD will make me fail a drug test?
Again, it’s not the CBD. But flunking a THC drug test because you took CBD depends on the source of your CBD, how much you took, over how long, your metabolism, and other factors like hydration levels.
Consider your CBD oil’s source
A pure “isolate” of just the CBD molecule, which is commercially available, should not contain any THC. However, these isolates are extracted from hemp oil, and are of varying quality. By law, federally legal hemp oil can have up to 0.3% THC in it. Sometimes that number is higher, because of variations in test results.
Beyond your CBD source, dosage, length of use, personal chemistry, and other factors determine drug test success or failure.
At one end, someone who smokes high-THC cannabis every day and then stops can still fail a drug test more than a month later. That’s because the human body stores THC in fat cells and burns it into THC-COOH later, Sample said.
At the other end, you could theoretically take CBD hemp oil for months, at low amounts (50 mg/day), and never fail a urine screen for THC-COOH. It’s not clear how much CBD hemp oil is needed—or for how long—to end up with more than 50 ng/ml of THC-COOH in your urine. But certainly, if you’re taking large amounts of CBD, depending on the source, you could test positive for THC.
“Any time THC enters the body, you have the possibility of having it stored in the fat cells and slowly released,” said Sample.
How to pass a drug test for CBD
You won’t get drug tested for CBD—you’ll be drug tested for THC. If you’re concerned for any reason, you may consider following the detoxification guidelines for THC, including discontinuing use, dieting, exercise, and staying hydrated to get trace THC out of your system.
How long does CBD stay in your system?
CBD effects last 90 minutes to several hours, depending on how it is consumed. The body turns CBD into the byproduct CBD-COOH in a matter of hours, and then it sticks around for at least several days. But it doesn’t matter, because no employer is testing for CBD-COOH.
Does CBD show up on a mouth swab test?
Mouth swabs don’t check for CBD—again, they’re checking for THC, said Sample. So no, CBD won’t show up on a standard workplace drug test mouth swab. THC will, though, so keep off large amounts of CBD with trace levels of THC.
Oral fluid testing is uncommon. In 2018, general workforce testing included over 6 million urine screens, versus just 1.3 million oral fluid tests, and 200,000 hair follicle tests.
“Almost all” of those specimens are tested for THC-COOH, Dr. Sample said.
Does CBD show up in a hair follicle test?
Stop us if you’ve heard this one, but workplace hair follicle tests are generally not checking for CBD—they’re checking for that old standby THC-COOH. So no, CBD won’t show up on a standard workplace drug test of a hair follicle. THC will, though. Any CBD you took that had trace levels of THC could leave THC byproducts in a hair follicle, where they have the potential to stick around for a while. Hair follicles can contain a months-long record of drug use, depending on the length of the hair.
Can stomach acid turn CBD into THC? Unlikely
You might have read rumors online that stomach acid can turn CBD into THC. That’s possible but unlikely, according to the experts we consulted.
CBD water marketers have trumpeted this claim lately to sell CBD water over other forms of CBD, said Gerdeman at United Cannabis, which makes and sells wholesale CBD isolate.
Multiple human trials of large doses of oral CBD have never resulted in the detection of THC in the blood plasma of test subjects—so if it’s happening outside of a lab beaker, no one’s proved it. Dr. Ethan Russo debunked the stomach acid theory in Trends in Pharmacological Sciences forum article Cannabidiol Claims and Misconceptions.
At-home CBD drug testing kits
Leafly does not know of any at-home CBD drug testing kits, or why you’d take one. If you’re worried about failing a workplace drug test, you could take an at-home THC-COOH test, though accuracy varies among these products.
What’s the future of CBD drug testing?
The trend is toward less drug testing for non-safety jobs. More and more states are ending discrimination against use of THC. Federal bills like the MORE Act are following suit.
Not exactly. Rather, buildup of trace THC can hurt job prospects. So can false positives. Pass a drug test with help from this FAQ.
The Health Trend That Might Give You a False Positive on a Drug Test
The world of drug testing is becoming surprisingly complicated. Medical marijuana is legal in 33 states, while recreational weed is legal in 10 states, but employers can still test employees (or potential hires) for marijuana use all across the country. Add cannabidiol (CBD) to the mix, and things get really confusing.
CBD, often ingested in oils, tinctures, and the occasional gummy bear, is really just a form of hemp- or marijuana-derived oil. It contains no psychoactive properties (so you don’t feel high), but there are growing studies showing CBD’s positive effects on anxiety, pain, and epilepsy in children. While CBD is totally legal, what are you supposed to do if you’re asked to take a drug screening? Will CBD show up on a drug test? Can you get fired for using CBD? I spoke to some experts to get some clarification on how CBD oil could potentially affect your test scores.
What exactly is CBD?
“Cannabis contains more than 100 different cannabinoids, with tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD) being the most abundant,” says Mitchell Colbert, a cannabis researcher and journalist. THC is the stuff that makes you feel high, while CBD does not.
Regular weed comes from the cannabis plant, while CBD is derived from hemp. What’s the difference? “The legal definition of hemp is a cannabis plant that has less than .3 percent THC in it,” says Trista Okel, founder and CEO of CBD product retailer Empower Body Care. “That is the only legal differentiation between hemp and marijuana.” All pure CBD oil will have less than .3 percent THC but will be full of the (alleged) anxiety- and pain-reducing properties.
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Do employers test for CBD?
“When an employer is doing a drug test for cannabis, they are looking for the presence of the intoxicating cannabinoid THC, not CBD,” Colbert says. Even in states where weed is legal, an employer can still choose to have a “drug-free” workplace and test to see if you’ve come across any THC lately.
“Drug screens are usually five-panel or 10-panel screens and test for other substances in addition to THC-COOH, which is what THC becomes after the body metabolizes it,” Okel says. Typically, you’ll be asked to produce a urine sample, it’ll go through screen tests for THC-COOH and other illegal substances, and you’ll find out if you passed.
Can you fail a drug test due to CBD?
Well, yes and no. “Most companies only search for the cannabinoid THC. That said, there are some testing facilities that check for a spectrum of cannabinoids, and therefore, THC-free CBD products could trigger a positive result,” says Sheri Kasper, RDN, LDN. “By law, you are allowed to ask the facility what cannabinoids they test for. If you are uncomfortable with that, you can call and ask anonymously.” These super-sensitive tests are rare, however. Most of the time, employers just want to know if you’re smoking weed all day, not if you’re taking CBD for your anxiety.
Still, CBD presents other risks for false positives. “If people are using CBD products that don’t have a CoA (Certificate of Analysis) that indicates zero THC, THC could show up on a drug screen,” Okel says. Availability of CBD oil has exploded, but it’s not a well-regulated industry. Some oils that claim to be pure CBD have some sneaky THC in there, and that could mess up a drug test. Okel advises everyone to only purchase CBD oils with CoA purity guarantee to avoid ingesting trace amounts of THC.
Again, CBD can legally contain up to .3 percent THC, so it’s possible (but not likely) that if you take a lot of CBD, the small amounts of THC could give you a false positive, Colbert says. One man claims he lost a job because of CBD oil, though it’s not clear if he’d taken an unusually large amount or if his oil contained some THC without his knowledge.
Make sure to read your labels. Some CBD oils openly contain higher doses of THC. Usually, you’d have to buy these from dispensaries, but you need to make sure you’re getting straight-up CBD if you’re not after any of the psychoactive effects or possible drug testing shenanigans.
Though this all sounds scary, it’s very unlikely that CBD oil will show up in a drug test. Just make sure that your CBD is sourced from a reputable retailer and you should be fine.
How long does CBD stay in your system?
Let’s say you took a CBD oil that had a bit of THC in it or you want to play it extra, extra safe before a drug screen. How long do you have to wait after your last CBD dose to take a drug test? “All cannabinoids are lipophilic,” says Glenn Harrison, M.D., an internist with a specialty in the use of cannabis in modern medical treatment. “They are actually forms of fat, so they get into the cells rapidly and will stay for a long time.”
It’s hard to say exactly how long CBD stays with you. It varies greatly depending on your size, BMI, and how often you’ve ingested CBD. “You cannot predict the exact amount of time that cannabinoids will appear in both urine and blood,” Harrison says.
Among all of the experts, there’s no hard and fast rule on how long it stays in your system. Again, if you’ve had pure CBD, it shouldn’t matter when you had it last since it won’t show up in urine tests. If you’ve had CBD and THC, the Colorado Pot Guide suggests you’ll be positive on a drug test within seven days of use. Now, if you take in a lot of THC, you could test positive for a month or more.
If you want to be extremely cautious, stop using CBD oil a month before a test. If you want to be mildly cautious, stop a week before. Since you’re not doing a specific CBD drug test, if you’re very careful that your CBD oil is THC free, then you should be able to take a general drug test the next day and be fine.
Is CBD Legal? Marijuana-derived CBD products are illegal on the federal level, but are legal under some state laws. Hemp-derived CBD products (with less than 0.3 percent THC) are legal on the federal level, but are still illegal under some state laws. Check your state’s laws and those of anywhere you travel. Keep in mind that nonprescription CBD products are not FDA-approved, and may be inaccurately labeled.
CBD doesn't get you high, but that doesn't necessarily mean it won't show up on a drug test—we checked with the experts to see how concerned we should really be about CBD and drug testing.